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Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Good and The Right

I'm writing this on the eve of the inauguration of the 45th President of the highly divided United States of America.

My beloved Episcopal Church has also been swept up in the maelstrom of controversy and division surrounding the inauguration of a man who, himself is a walking maelstrom of controversy and division and is entering the office of the presidency with the lowest approval rating - 37% - of any person taking the Oath of Office.

And, with good reason.

The role of the Cathedral Church of St. Peter and St. Paul, also known as The Washington National Cathedral, is being called into serious question by Episcopalians in particular and people of faith in general.

When it was first built, the Cathedral in DC was envisioned as being a "Westminster Abbey in America" - a place where we could "crown" our duly elected President with the blessings of the church, in much the same way that the Anglican Church, UK, blesses and crowns its royalty.

Oh, we've never said exactly that - we never would - but that's precisely what happens during what has become an Interfaith Service at the Cathedral the day after the inauguration.

We like to think of "our" cathedral as "the spiritual home of the nation". A "great church for national purposes". A "place of worship for all".

In God we Trust.

We have basked in this cozy relationship between state and religion for a long time, well articulated in the book, "The Power of their Glory: America's Ruling Class, the Episcopalians." (There is something sadly ironic - and, perhaps, a tad prophetic - that one can now purchase this book on Amazon in hardcover for $.01).

Money, power and glory have been as traditional in The Episcopal Church as apple pie.
The old joke about Episcopalians asks, "Which Episcopalians will go to Hell?"

Answer: "The ones who don't know a salad fork from add dessert fork."
This has been changing, of course. The Episcopal Church now claims less than two percent of the population in membership.

The diversity of American cultures and religions is one that could never have been imagined when the first cornerstone of the cathedral was set.

The dream of the cathedral being "the spiritual home of the nation" could not have imagined, much less incorporated, the great variety of spiritual expressions and religious beliefs that now make up the rich tapestry of America.

There are those who ask: How are we to incorporate that diversity without sacrificing the richness of our own tradition and identity?

And what of the idea of "the separation of church and state" which Jefferson wrote? Why does the church, in general and The Episcopal Church in particular, need a ceremony to 'bless' the newly inaugurated president's first term of office with scripture readings, prayer and music?

Whatever was once acceptable if not uncomfortable has been seriously challenged by a man whose personal and business habits are predatory and ethically challenged, whose beliefs and behavior are antithetical to the Christianity he claims as his and whose politics and proposed policies are such that would make the founders of this government set their powdered wigs on fire and run screaming from the room.

People of good will are asking how can we associate ourselves in any way with this man and his presidency?

Other people of equal good will are asking how can we not? If the church is a 'house of prayer for ALL people', that means - especially means - people we don't especially like.

Remember? We're the people who said "All means ALL". We're the 'inclusive church'. We are the Episcopal branch of The Jesus Movement.

Isn't it a good thing to do?

Isn't it the right thing to do?

Well, boys and girls, in case you hadn't heard this before, there is a difference between that which is good and that which is right.

See: The Right and The Good by Sr. David Ross.

Something can be intentionally good and still go all wrong.

It is also true that something can be right and bad, both at the same time.  Doing the right thing often pisses people off. Really. Pisses. People. Off.

When British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain set out his diplomatic foreign policy of appeasement with Germany from 1937-1939, it was intended to avoid conflict and the possibility of war.

Which, arguably, is a good thing.

Unfortunately, appeasement with a man like the then Chancellor of Germany only nourished and emboldened his quest for world domination and "ethnic purity". History records the events that unfolded.
In the same way, the religious organizations also followed a policy of appeasement. At that time, Germany was about one-third Roman Catholic and two-thirds Protestant. 

The Chancellor of Germany, one Adolph Hitler, signed a concordat with Pope Pius XI in 1933. He promised full religious freedom for the Church. In exchange, the Pope promised that he wouldn’t interfere in political matters.

Sounds like a good deal, right? 

A year later, in 1934, 28 Protestant groups were merged to form the National Reich Church. A member of the Nazi party was elected Bishop of the Church. Non-Aryan ministers were suspended. Church members called themselves German Christians, with the Swastika on their chest and the Cross in their heart.

Shortly after the concordat was signed, the Nazis started to close Catholic churches and monasteries.

In 1937, the Pope protested in a letter which was to be read in every Catholic Church. Not long after that letter was issued, around 400 priests were arrested and sent to the Dachau concentration camp.

In 1934, the Confessing Church was formed by Martin Niemöller with 6,000 ministers, leaving 2,000 behind in the National Reich Church. Shortly thereafter, around 800 ministers were arrested and sent to concentration camps.

Niemöller was arrested in 1937 and sent to Dachau, then Sachsenhausen, until 1945. Dietreich Bonhoeffer, the prolific writer and theologian of the Confessing Church Movement, was imprisoned in 1943 and was later executed.

These are important lessons in history about the difference between "the good" and "the right".

No one questioned the goodness of the Prime Minister or the Pope. I suspect their motives to cooperate with the Chancellor of Germany were nothing but good.

But, were they right?

History reveals that they couldn't have been more wrong. But, did they know it at the time?

Is it a good thing that the Dean of the Cathedral has agreed to hold the Interfaith Inauguration Service on Saturday, January 21st? And, that service includes the performance of the Children's Choir?

Is it any surprise, really, that this question has raised tensions and created controversy in The Episcopal Church?

I appreciate the good intentions of the Dean, who has been supported by the bishop of his decision.

I'm sure they intend to "build bridges" with the man who intends to build walls.

I have no doubt that they want to extend hospitality to a man who wants to deport immigrants.

Who could question their commitment to provide an avenue for reconciliation and unity even to a man who sows bitterness and discord?

Jesus said  love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.

Aren't they doing just that?

Shouldn't we all?

These are honorable and rational reasons for holding the Interfaith Service at the Cathedral.

If you read the teachings of Jesus, there is no doubt that he stood against the principalities and powers of his day and time and culture.

Jesus was absolutely opposed to imperialism and oppression, and had an undeniable preferential option for the 'anawim', the outcast and the poor, calling them "beloved".

Jesus himself and his parents were once refugees, undocumented, illegal aliens. 

And, you know, even Satan was able to quote scripture for his own purposes.

This PEOTUS is a game changer on every single level in every single arena imaginable in our lives. 

It's time - once again - to rethink the Cathedral's role, the role of the church, the role of religion, in the matters of the state. 

It's a tension that's been with us since Jesus whose life and teachings are filled with navigating that tension. 

Jesus, in fact, was crucified because of that tension. 

He said, "You cannot serve God and mammon." And, he chose the good but bad things happened.

The church, the cathedral, the Body of Christ, is standing in that crucified place once again. 

Which is why it hurts.

In terms of the decision of the Cathedral to hold the Interfaith Inaugural Service, I think it was a wrong decisions with good intentions.

I hope for good results but I fear we have not learned the lessons of appeasement.

We're going to make more of these decisions if we don't get really clear about the difference between "the good" and "the right." 

If you haven't already, it's time to join The Jesus Movement.  For lots of reasons, it's much harder to be part of that movement than being part of an institutional church.

It's the crucible where the differences between "the good" and "the right" are forged and clarified.

To quote Louie Crew Clay, "The meek are getting ready".

UPDATE: See what's happening at St. John's, Lafayette Square "The Church of the Presidents". 

Inflammatory pastor preached to Trump before inauguration


Brother David said...

Now it has been announced that the homophobic, anti-Muslim pastor of First Baptist Church - Dallas, Robert Jeffries, is preaching at the private service before the inauguration tomorrow at St John’s Episcopal Church by the White House.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

And the hits (below the belt) just keep coming. Better get ready. More are already on the way.

Fr. carlton kelley said...

Far too many clergy of the Episcopal Church and many of our laity have, for all intents and purposes, abandoned a robust Christianity centered on Jesus Christ and chosen instead Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. As long as something feels good, we are vaguely nice to one another and God stays in heaven these kinds of episodes where moral courage based in Jesus' life, death and resurrection is nowhere to be found will continue to happen. We are, sadly, a pretentious church.

Brian Wilbert said...

Thank you Louie, as always, Clarity in the midst of confusion.

Brian Wilbert said...

Ooops, Thank YOU Elizabeth...didn't realize you were the author until I re-read the article! Mea culpa and to YOU, thanks for clarity amidst confusion!

Jim said...

In the 1860's the Episcopal Church left the liberation of slaves to other churches. In the depression years, Presiding Bishop Anderson was derided as a radical as he preached the beginning of what would become the civil rights movement. That movement was led and supported by Baptists and African Methodist Episcopalians. Yes individual Episcopalians supported the movement, for clergy often to the detriment of careers. Yes some bishops were involved, often being called radicals within the church.

I think it is time for us to give up the idea of ourselves as a partner with the State. We need to think of Bonhoeffer and Becket as our patron guides. The times are changing.


Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Carlton - We can be pretentious and self-satisfied. And then, there are churches that are alive and living into the Gospel. We can no longer paint ourselves with the same brush.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Brian. Honest mistake. Louie's picture is at the top of the post and his quote ends the post. No problem. Actually, it's an honor to have this considered Louie's writing. So, really. No problem. Really. LOL

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Jim - some of us have already started.

David said...

I'd quote one of the two living saints of the Delaware marshes:
"The Body of Christ, is standing in that crucified place once again. Which is why it hurts."

Thank you dear Elizabeth

Mary-Cauliflower said...

I want to give a shout-out to the Bishops, Dean, welcomers, and volunteers at the Cathedral Church of St. Paul in the Diocese of Massachusetts. They opened the doors to everyone, regardless of affiliation. They let people use the rest rooms, offered coffee and snacks. Bishop Gates sent us off to the rally with a blessing.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

You are most welcome, dear brother David.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

DioMA totally rocks.